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Album Review: FONTAINES D.C. - Dogrel


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Amidst much hype from BBC 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq and support from label mates IDLES, FONTAINES D.C. have released their debut album on Partisan Records. Dogrel combines the swagger of The Strokes with an Irish ear for melody, deft lyricism and the atmospherics of Joy Division and Sonic Youth.

Album art 'Dogrel' (2019)

FONTAINES D.C.’s first full-length seems like a seminal moment in an era where samey-ness reigns supreme in the guitar world. Instead of the reverb-soaked vocals we’ve grown accustomed to hearing on rock records of late, Grian Chatten’s unabashed and often poetic Dubliner drawl is front and centre in the mix.

The album begins with the bombastic ‘Big’, which comes in at a succinct one minute and 45 seconds. For a five-piece, the band doesn’t sound at all frilly and no part is superfluous. The natal themes on the opening song herald a particularly Irish nativity – “Dublin in the rain is mine/ A pregnant city with a Catholic mind”.

‘Sha Sha Sha’ carries on from where ‘Big’ leaves off but instead of the metallic clang of the opener’s frantic cymbals and snares we have dryly mixed drums over which a lightly distorted guitar chucks a staccato chord progression and Chatten sings, “I feel like an old tattoo”. This is one of many unique images conjured up across the album betraying a rare sensitivity towards language that recurs in the second verse’s “pumping up a tyre/ Tyre and tyre and tyre and tyre”.

The panning, swirling guitar effects in the verse of ‘Too Real’ evoke Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures and its lyrical themes again address Dublin – “the city in her final dress”. ‘Television Screens’ follows on from this with undeniable Sonic Youth vibes in the instrumentation. Of all the tracks this is perhaps the bleakest, with allusions to environmental catastrophe and domestic abuse in the lyrics. Chatten’s baritone really seems to find a sweet spot here over melodic bass and crunchy guitars.

The distortion further disintegrates on ‘Hurricane Laughter’, with abrasively overdriven bass and the chorus’s tumbling guitar. After this ‘Roy’s Tune’ serves as a refreshing halfway-mark ballad which appears, on some level, to be about precarious employment; the song’s protagonist informs us that, according to “the company”, “there is no warning and there is no future” and speaks of a loss of what he thought was an eternal optimism – “the lights in my eyes, they were evergreen”.

Chorused bass and mournful guitars characterise ‘The Lotts’. Here the despondent soundscape is driven forward by expressive drums which gradually open up through the course of the track giving way to the final minute’s expansive melancholia. In contrast, ‘Chequeless Reckless’ is a shuffling, almost bluesy song. The track begins with a list of disillusionment, taking a swipe at those who “let their education do all of the thinking” and who “demand respect for the principles they effect”.

‘Liberty Belle’ is Dogrel’s most typically punk song with Chatten affecting a Julian Casablancas-style cool vocal delivery. The album’s penultimate track ‘Boys in the Better Land’ is equally driving and features some of the album’s best lyrics including the description of a “face like sin and a heart like a James Joyce novel”. ‘Dublin City Sky’ closes Dogrel with its beautiful folk-inspired balladry telling of a doomed romance with a lover whose face was “rubied up just like no sun I’d ever seen”.

Dogrel is an assured and authentic debut from FONTAINES D.C. that ignores current trends in guitar music to create something genuine and unique. Grian Chatten’s inspired lyrics, strikingly particular to the city of Dublin, are delivered with a conviction impossible to ignore.

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